UnaMesa Association for Community Engagement

The purpose of UnaMesa is to strengthen communities by creating information systems that value meaningful relationships.

The Industrial Economy assigns “value” to things which can be transacted. This logic has driven tremendous wealth creation through technological innovation but severely limits our collective ability to “value” experiences which are created through meaningful interactions. Unlike manufactured goods, a relationship with a thoughtful teacher or caring doctor cannot be sold on the open market and thus we have no systematic way for seeing the collective value of such relationships relative to other possible experiences. This limitation severely constrains our ability to fund and reward improvements in education, healthcare, and other services that generate social wellbeing.

UnaMesa seeks to drive innovation in social services by working with a network of partners to develop, promote, and demonstrate a shared framework for impact accounting that is grounded in the choices individuals make about which experiences, interactions, and relationships are most meaningful in their lives.

Discovery vs Measurement of Value

Our approach and mindset differs somewhat from the traditional approach of measuring social impact. Foundations, governments, and other organizations have gravitated towards metrics based approaches such as IRIS or the SDG goals to measure the social and environmental performance of their investments (by which we mean to include grants, loans, equity, and other means of providing resources to organizations). While we applaud these efforts to measure impact, their primary purpose is to serve the information needs and values of the funders. Rarely, if ever, do these metric based approaches inform or reveal the decisions and values of the individuals who are the intended benficiaries of these investments.

At UnaMesa, our starting point is to help inform the choices of individuals and providers about which experiences are likely to generate the interactions, experiences, and relationship they find most valuable. We believe there is a promising space of solutions to this problem that we generally call “Choice Frameworks.” In a choice framework approach, we create a set of choices for an individual or group AFTER they have participated in an experience. For example, imagine a parent who has enrolled their child in a week long summer camp. Suppose that after participating in that camp, the family is now given the choice to reserve a future spot in that camp or another available offering. That choice, informed by their experience, can now be aggregated and used to inform the decisions of families in a similar situation who are trying to choose a camp without the benefit of having had that experience.

This simple example is not perfect nor intended to illustrate the full potential of Choice Frameworks. Rather we just want to illustrate that we see the challenge of accounting for impact as being primarily primarily a problem of discovering what’s important and meaningful in the lives of the intended beneficiaries and reflecting that back to help inform the choices of the individuals themselves. This approach builds on the great work of organizations such as Family Independence Initiative that have long been focused on the information needs of the underserved. We see an opportunity to extend that work to apply more broadly to how we as a society think about and value the meaningful connections and well being that a transaction based market simply ignores. Over time, we believe these mechanisms of a shared framework for impact accounting will draw the values of funders towards convergence with the values of the intended beneficiaries.